The list of injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball, keeps getting longer for the Notre Dame football team. Head coach Brian Kelly announced during his Sunday teleconference that outside linebacker Ben Councell will miss the rest of the season with a "significant knee injury" and defensive lineman Kona Schwenke will also miss next week's game at Pittsburgh with a high ankle sprain.
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day reaggravated the ankle sprain he suffered back in September against Purdue in Saturday's win over Navy, while safety Austin Collinsworth suffered a neck strain against Navy. Collinsworth's neck was more sore on Sunday than anticipated after the game, so he is schedule for an MRI on Monday.
The latest round of injuries brings the defensive total to 12 players this season. That includes defensive lineman Chase Hounshell, who was lost for the season after shoulder surgery last spring.
"If you're in college football or any level in the pros you're going to have these times," Kelly said when asked if he has experienced such a rash of defensive injuries in his two-plus decades as a coach. "They don't give you any points for complaining about it. If they did I'd complain every minute, so we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."
The list of injured this season on the defensive side of the ball includes: Louis Nix, Ishaq Williams, Danny Spond, Elijah Shumate, Austin Collinsworth, Nicky Baratti, Ben Councell, Chase Hounshell, Jarrett Grace, Tony Springmann, Sheldon Day and Kona Schwenke (freshman linebacker Doug Randolph has also not been a factor after having shoulder surgery prior to the season).
Kelly's philosophy when it comes to injuries has always been "next man in", but with three games to go in the regular season that mantra is being tested.
"We are running out of next men," Kelly said. "We're at that point where, from a defensive standpoint particularly the defensive line, we're left with very few options - especially when you're talking about Schwenke (and) Springmann. It becomes an issue now where we have to be very creative in what we're doing and how we're doing it."
"We'll figure something out," Kelly continued. "We'll get 11 guys out there. It's just not going to be one of those things where we're going to have the same group of guys out there all the time."
Nix has missed the past two games with a knee injury. Kelly has said and continues to say tendonitis in the knee is what has kept Nix out of action, but he also revealed on Sunday that Nix has a small meniscus tear.
"(It is) a very minimal issue relative to the knee," Kelly said of the meniscus injury. "(It is) one that (in) normal situations would not be attended to until after the season."
Kelly said Nix is having an MRI on the knee on Sunday to see how close he is to a possible return to the field.
"This is more for Lou to make a decision in terms of where he's at in terms of his health and making sure he feels he's capable of playing the rest of the season," Kelly said. "We're taking extra care to make sure that medically he's good to go."
Schwenke had a career-high 11 tackles Saturday vs. Navy. He has saw more playing time over the last two games while Nix has been out. With Schwenke definitely out against Pitt and Nix's status still up in the air, Kelly expects Jarron Jones and Tyler Stockton to get the bulk of the nose guard reps. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt will stay at end.
Shumate has now missed three straight games with a hamstring injury, but Kelly says he is now 100-percent and expects him to play next weekend. Williams has what Kelly says is an ACL (knee) injury, but he does not expect it to be a long-term issue.
"He was in an immobilizer this week," said Kelly. "He'll begin rehab this week. We'll get him moving. We'll have the bye week (Nov. 16) and he should, our protocol has been pretty standard relative to where these guys come back, we should have him back for the BYU game."
On the offensive side of the ball, guard Chris Watt missed the Navy game due to what Kelly said is a PCL injury. He suffered the injury last week against Air Force. Watt had hoped to play, but found himself limited in pregame warm-up due to the PCL - an injury Kelly says does not require surgery.
"As he adapts to it this week I think he's going to feel a lot more comfortable," Kelly said. "He tried to go; he just didn't feel like he could do some of the things. He didn't want to let his team down. I think as he acclimates to the injury he's going to be able to go, but it's going to take a little bit more time. He's going to play with it, it's just a matter of how long it takes to really, I don't want to say get used to it, but that's really what we're talking about."
Conor Hanratty made his first career start with Watt out on Saturday. Kelly called Hanratty a "battler". Fellow guard Christian Lombard is out for the season after surgery last week to repair a herniated disc in his back. Other offensive injuries this year include receiver Daniel Smith, who is out for the year with a broken ankle and running back Greg Bryant (knee tendonitis).
It took freshman running back Tarean Folston the better part of two months to fully emerge after his 140-yard performance against Navy. It surpassed the 116 yards he had through the first eight games of his career, but Kelly says Folston had been battling early injuries too.
"He had a severe calf strain coming into camp, which hampered him (for) probably the first I would say about 3-4 weeks," said Kelly of Folston. "And then (he) had a hip flexor where he was not a hundred percent. Then you saw a little bit of a hamstring. He was battling some soft tissue injuries."
"I think now he's at a hundred percent," Kelly said. "His conditioning level is high and he's obviously put himself in that position where he's worked hard at his conditioning level, his strength is up and that's why he was able to handle the load he did in the fourth quarter (vs. Navy)."